This is yet another book that I discovered through a book convention. I had never heard of this book or the author until she was speaking to us about this book about 9/11, an event that I’m too young to remember but whose impact is still felt everywhere, even in YA books published in 2019.
Sometimes looking to the past helps you find your future.
Abbi Hope Goldstein is like every other teenager, with a few smallish exceptions: her famous alter ego, Baby Hope, is the subject of internet memes, she has asthma, and sometimes people spontaneously burst into tears when they recognize her. Abbi has lived almost her entire life in the shadow of the terrorist attacks of September 11. On that fateful day, she was captured in what became an iconic photograph: in the picture, Abbi (aka “Baby Hope”) wears a birthday crown and grasps a red balloon; just behind her, the South Tower of the World Trade Center is collapsing.
Now, fifteen years later, Abbi is desperate for anonymity and decides to spend the summer before her seventeenth birthday incognito as a counselor at Knights Day Camp two towns away. She’s psyched for eight weeks in the company of four-year-olds, none of whom have ever heard of Baby Hope.
Too bad Noah Stern, whose own world was irrevocably shattered on that terrible day, has a similar summer plan. Noah believes his meeting Baby Hope is fate. Abbi is sure it’s a disaster. Soon, though, the two team up to ask difficult questions about the history behind the Baby Hope photo. But is either of them ready to hear the answers?
These 3 stars are pretty tricky because, while I really love the messages and intent behind the story, I don’t really love the book.
I think this book might have resonated with me more if I remembered the events that inspired this story. Although the specifics in this book are complete fiction, the general premise seems to be for someone who would remember 9/11. This fact seems to contradict the target YA audience. I’m in my early twenties and I don’t remember 9/11, so how could an actual teen?
The main character Abbi attempts to address this in the story, saying that although she doesn’t remember 9/11, her life has forever been changed because of it. Not only is she the face of 9/11 because of the Baby Hope picture, but her family, friends, and health have all been influenced by 9/11. I might not remember the event but I can definitely see the impact this attack has had on the world, ranging from cultural biases to crazy airport security checks and rules. So, I appreciate the fact that they try to address some of this in the story, but I still don’t understand how the YA audience is supposed to connect with this primary plot.
The secondary plots, on the other hand, are more digestible for those of us who were too young for the book’s main topic. In addition to exploring the impact of 9/11, the book looks at grief, identity, divorce, illness, family dynamics, friendship/friendship breakups, and more topics that, in this context, relate to 9/11 but can still stand on their own to add more depth and relatability to the story.
Although I found myself enjoying these plots, I found myself rolling my eyes at the characters. Please keep in mind that I listened to the audiobook, so some of my frustration likely comes from the narration (honestly, I can’t take it seriously when someone with a very adult voice reads for a 16 year old). Regardless, I thought Abbi’s character was too focused on Baby Hope. I know, this is kinda the bigger piece of her character arc, but how many times do I have to listen to her go back and forth about Baby Hope without actually developing the story or her character ? (Hint: too many times). Noah, contrary to popular Goodreads opinion, didn’t bother me as much. He felt the most realistic with flaws, emotions, and growth throughout the book.
Another complaint that’s kind of random but really bothered me throughout the whole book: how did people know Abbi was Baby Hope after all these years? I understand that her community was devastated by 9/11 and that her photo was insanely popular, but she was a baby in the photo! How did people get a brief glimpse of her face halfway across the supermarket and burst into tears because it’s Baby Hope? I just don’t see that. I can hardly recognize me in my own baby photos, much less a stranger’s photo. It also seems strange that so many people, especially adults, would see her as the face of 9/11 and put the weight of their grief on her, and I think maybe this is where more of that disconnect with the actual event comes into play.
Maybe I would understand how an adult could burst into tears at the sight of a survivor if I was one of the people glued to the screen as the towers fell, but I wasn’t. I’ve seen documentaries, learned about the event, seen pictures, and read about it, but I know that none of this compares to actually living through what happened. Yeah, I was alive, but you get what I’m saying.
This review has been kind of rambly, but that was my thought process throughout the book. One moment I’d be rolling my eyes at Abbi’s boring and repetitive thoughts and the next moment I’d be laughing or feeling emotional over the conflicts and backgrounds of the characters. I really appreciated that the author worked multiple plotlines and conflicts throughout the book to help things feel more relatable and to help show some of the more hidden consequences of 9/11.
It turns out this particular book wasn’t quite for me. I appreciate the messages and the feeling behind the book but my limited background with the subject matter made it difficult for me to connect with the story or the characters.